A key ally of Donald Trump has decried alleged efforts by senior officials to depose the president as a “bureaucratic coup” and pledged to hold a congressional investigation.
Republican senator Lindsey Graham said it was “stunning” the former acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, had admitted in a TV interview he had discussed invoking the 25th Amendment – which allows the cabinet to remove a president from office – with the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
“Was this an attempted bureaucratic coup? I don’t know. I don’t know who’s telling the truth,” he told CBS News.
“I know Rosenstein vehemently denied it but we’re going to get to the bottom of it.
“I promise your viewers the following; that we will have a hearing about who’s telling the truth, what actually happened.”
Mr Graham is the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee.
Mr McCabe said last week Mr Trump’s sacking of FBI boss James Comey had so disconcerted Justice Department officials they openly spoke about whether he might be deposed through the 25th Amendment.
The 50-year-old, who was himself fired by the Trump administration last year just days before his scheduled retirement amid accusations he had misled an internal inquiry into leaking to journalists, also ordered an investigation into whether the president had obstructed justice by dismissing Mr Comey.
Mr Rosenstein has disputed allegations he discussed removing Mr Trump and connected claims he proposed wearing a wire to secretly record Oval Office conversations.
But on Sunday it emerged at least two senior FBI lawyers had testified in private to congressional committees about the 25th Amendment episode, corroborating Mr McCabe’s account.
Mr Graham, a one-time critic of Mr Trump who is now one of the president’s loudest defenders, told CBS News any effort to use the constitutional mechanisms in the 25th Amendment would amount to an “administrative coup”.
“I’m going to do everything I can to get to the bottom of the Department of Justice FBI behaviour toward President Trump and his campaign.
“If it happened we need to clean it up. The FBI has gotten off track in the past. There is no organisation that can’t withstand scrutiny.”
When asked if he would even issue legal summons to force Mr McCabe and Mr Rosenstein to give evidence in Congress, Mr Graham said: “How can I not, if that’s what it takes?
“We’re going to find out what happened here and the only way I know to find out is to call the people in under oath and find out, through questioning, who’s telling the truth because the underlying accusation is beyond stunning.”
But a Democratic member of Mr Graham’s committee, Chris Coons, said his colleague was overreacting.
“I don’t think that this frankly rises to the level of some deep state conspiracy or a serious attempt at what Senator Graham called an administrative coup.
“I suspect that once this is fully discussed, it’ll be clearer that this was a brief or passing conversation that’s been taken out of context.”
Shortly after Mr McCabe’s TV interview aired, Mr Trump replied via an angry series of tweets.
“Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a ‘poor little Angel’ when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax – a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey,” he said.
“Many of the top FBI brass were fired, forced to leave, or left. McCabe’s wife received BIG DOLLARS from Clinton people for her campaign – he gave Hillary a pass. McCabe is a disgrace to the FBI and a disgrace to our Country. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”